At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."


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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Keith Richards talks solo album, documentary, and trying to get the Stones ...
Entertainment Weekly, August 31st

It had just arrived, and it was sitting on the table, and that same day my guitar man, Pierre, he came by with a 12-string guitar. And so I'm looking at the cover of this Lead Belly [book] and I've got this 12-string in my hand. I sort of went, Tom, I...Read more

Anti-war songwriter says it was a last-minute substitution
Albany Times Union, August 31st

He says he recorded it on the spot with vocals and bass, and later added a 12-string guitar and drums. He says he's happy to be remembered for "Sunshine." He says that if he never had another song, "I'd be thrilled to leave this world remembered for...Read more

Music and arts festival to wrap Saturday
Fairborn Daily Herald, August 29th

11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Eddie Rowe: A wide repertoire of songs played on his acoustic 12-string guitar, including rock, pop, blues and more. 1-2 p.m. – Ty Cooper: Singer/songwriter from Pitchin writes and performs Americana, folk and alternate country music...Read more

(Archive 1972) Saint Dominic's Preview - Album Review by Stewart Parker
Irish Times, August 28th

Almost Independence Day has an arresting opening, with nice improvisation on 12-string guitar leading into a hypnotic combination of hissing cymbals and a steady growl on the synthesizer. Some fine effects are achieved with Morrison using his voice...Read more

The Swampers' Spooner Oldham talks amazing career, reissue of his only solo album
AL.com, August 27th

I remember Dan Penn who wrote the song with me, he had bought a new 12-string guitar and we were in a room with a piano and he was tuning up his guitar. He was doing a little riff, like tuning, do do deeny, do do deeny, and I started layering chords on...Read more

Area singer-guitarist presents weekly songwriter showcases
Palm Beach Post, August 21st

Hartmann's use of a Seagull 12-string guitar, with its unique chiming tones, adds to the originality. Hartmann also hosts a weekly Musicians Showcase in Boynton Beach and a monthly one in Lake Park, where he presents his material and showcases invited ...Read more

Folk musician Leo Kottke lets his guitar do the talking
The Sheboygan Press, August 11th

Americana folk legend and self-taught acoustic guitarist Leo Kottke once described his singing voice as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day.” However, Kottke is known more for his unconventional fingerpicking style on the 6- and 12-string...Read more

12-String Setup Secrets
Premier Guitar, February 9th

A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more